Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Steelers Football: Savage Amusement
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com) in Dec 2011
In the movie Gladiator, an enslaved Maximus continues to win the favor of his captors and fans for his victorious acts of violence in arranged battles. In a poignant moment, Maximus, irritated by the blood-thirst of spectators seeking savage amusement, hurls his sword at his captor’s perch. The act was met with catcalls and prompts an annoyed Maximus to yell, “Are you not entertained?” In that moment Maximus, as the great human conscience, captures exactly how I feel about Steelers football. Am I entertained by Steelers football? Not anymore.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Assemble all NFL teams together and, like every schoolyard, you’ll find a sample of styles covering the entire athletic continuum. The awkward and uncoordinated (the Colts and ‘Skins), the talented but unfocused (the Cowboys), the naturally gifted and elegant (Green Bay) and even the bullies are represented. There are many teams claiming territory in this latter group, but there’s only one true NFL playground thug: the Pittsburgh Steelers.
No sports franchise personifies its city more accurately than the Steelers. The franchise’s name and logo were, obviously, derived from the local trademark steel industry, but the team’s cultural connection with the region is far deeper than these superficial indicators. Western Pennsylvania is synonymous with Appalachia, rugged, resilient Americans and steel. Similarly, as far back as the early 1970s and the famed Steel Curtain defense, Pittsburgh has proudly been one of the NFL’s tough guys. Stingy defenses, hard hits and blue-collar, no-nonsense players have been the hallmark of Steelers football for 40 years. The organization long ago adopted a successful formula that, like a good family recipe, they’ve stubbornly maintained without compromise. They draft and develop their own players and have little use for free agents who’ve been corrupted with another, non-Steelers culture. They seek out “steel”-minded, hard-nosed coaches that embody the “Steelers way “, show them uncommon loyalty – they‘ve had but three coaches since 1969 – and empower them to run the football operations. It’s a business model, a franchise and a style of play I’ve admired for many years. That admiration, despite the team’s on-going success, is starting to wane.
Violence, an innate aspect of football, is under assault. League rules regarding hits on quarterbacks and defenseless receivers has been redefined; the powers-that-be in the NFL have absolutely zero tolerance for helmet to helmet hits and NFL head-hunters who lead recklessly with the crown of their helmets. As one might suspect, such violence legislation and its enforcement has been met with great resistance from fans and players alike. Every Sunday fans erupt over perceived dubious personal fouls and players cry to their union over league-levied fines for illegal hits. Ground zero for this battle between old school football ops and the new school neutering of defensive aggression is Pittsburgh, PA.
No team has gotten more publicity for its blackout hits and fines than the Steelers. The new rules fly in the face of everything the Steelers are and team and fans are united in their angst. I was with them for a while. Now my answer to Black and Gold nation’s gripes is “too bad.” The truth is violence follows the Steelers. If you watch a team against any other opponent and then watch them against the Steelers, you’ll see two different brands of football. The Steelers are like the attitude-laden co-worker who brings out the worst in everyone around him or her. Watch a Steelers game and you’re probably going to see someone from the other team knocked senseless and stagger off the field. And for the most part, football fans – Steelers fans or otherwise – love it. That is sad commentary on the lack of basic humanity pervading society and stands on Sundays. Our ignorance of the long-term impact of concussions is long gone. There should be a collective intolerance for players who blatantly and habitually hit opponents high and disgust, not barbaric celebration, when someone’s husband, father or son is knocked senseless. For whatever reason, such play follows the Steelers and in this battle of wills, the NFL will, thankfully, prevail. The Steelers will conform…eventually. Their style represents football’s past, the league’s approach its sustainable, safer future.